Lansing Budget Faces Likely Mayoral Veto

May 24, 2012

On Monday, the Lansing city council approved a budget for the coming fiscal year, but Mayor Virg Bernero is expected to veto some or all of the spending plan today.

WKAR's Scott Pohl spoke with Angela Wittrock, who covers the city for, about what happens next.

SCOTT POHL: What are the major differences between what Mayor Bernero wants and what the city council gave him on Monday?

ANGELA WITTROCK: Mayor Bernero proposed a budget that would bring in about $3 million of new revenue annually through the Lansing Board of Water and Light. They make payments every year. Instead of paying taxes, they’re called return on equity payments. He would like that rate to go from four percent to five percent.  The council said, “we’ll do you one better” and passed a budget that has them bringing in 5.5%. With that extra money, about $1.5 million, they proposed hiring some officers, and reducing the number of furlough days city employees would have to take from 26 to six.

POHL: And, not surprisingly, the Board of Water and Light wants the mayor’s proposal to hold.

WITTROCK: Yes, and it’s important to remember that the mayor, as one of his powers, does have the ability to name the board of the Board of Water and Light, so those are folks whose opinion he trusts, and they voted the way that he counted on them voting.

How would a veto work?

POHL: So, he’s expected to veto some or all of the budget today. How would that work?

WITTROCK: Essentially, he delivers a list to the City Clerk, I believe, of what he does not want, and he can accept, and the city council then has 14 days to either accept that or count to six, get six votes and overturn his veto.

POHL: And they only had a 5 to 3 vote on the budget they passed Monday.

WITTROCK: Yes. The city council members that I’ve been speaking to have said nothing’s impossible, but it doesn’t look likely that any of the three who voted against the budget will suddenly see their way and overturn.

POHL: So does this amount to a bully pulpit for the Mayor, and he’s going to get what he wants in some fashion? Someone’s going to have to give, and it’s going to be the council?

WITTROCK: Yes, and it’s partly because the city of Lansing is a strong Mayor setup, emphasis on strong. The power is skewed in a way so that the Mayor put up his agenda, and the council…the onus is on them to undo it, and without a very strong majority, it’s difficult to make that happen. So, what that means is that his agenda gets put into action more often than not.

The council expects that they will not be able to withstand his veto, but they hope that they’re making a point about his priorities versus their priorities while they do it.

Where would extra money come from?

POHL: Where are they likely to go for the revenue that they’re not going to get from the Board of Water and Light?

WITTROCK: That’s a good question. They are still hopeful that they can work out a deal with the Board of Water and Light to get that extra revenue. The board has not said no. The council, it appears, does have the power to approve that contract with the Board of Water and Light, so there looks to be a chance that the council can say “no, we won’t approve anything under 5.5%”. So, they do have a little shred of power left in this. It just remains to be seen how it plays out.

POHL: One final question: it’s recently come out that at the end of the current budget year, there’s likely to be something of a deficit. Is that complicating this matter at all?

WITTROCK: It is, partly because the city has just agreed to sell a parking lot to Lansing Community College. They anticipate that will bring in about $1.21 million. Now, instead of closing the difference between the council’s budget and the Mayor’s budget, that will instead close what’s likely to be a millions, with an “s”, deficit in this year’s budget.